Is The Ford Foundation's Darren Walker The Savior Of Detroit?

January 13, 2014, 10:54 AM

In its story this morning the deal to save the Detroit Institute of Arts and city workers' pensions in Detroit's bankruptcy process, the Free Press reported the multi-pronged effort from the foundations' is being spearheaded by Darren Walker, CEO of the Ford Foundation in New York.

The Ford Foundation is the nation's second largest foundation, with $11 billion in assets, and Walker has been in charge only since July.

He grew up poor in Louisiana, and took advantage of programs for low-income students to receive an education that eventually landed him at the top of Manhattan's legal and philanthropic circles.

According to a story by James Barron in the New York Times, Walker was born in a charity hospital in Lafayette, La., and grew up in the 1960s in a single-parent household in rural Texas, where his mother worked as a nurse’s aide and he was enrolled in one of the first Head Start programs. He went on to the University of Texas at Austin with help from a Pell grant scholarship, awarded to low-income students based on financial need.

“Darren is someone who brings high energy,” said Irene Hirano Inouye, the chairwoman of the Ford Foundation board.

He also brings a network of boldface-name friends going back to his years at the Abyssinian Development Corporation, the nonprofit arm of the Abyssinian Baptist Church that played a significant role in Harlem’s resurgence. Shaun Donovan, the federal housing secretary, recalled encountering Mr. Walker when Mr. Donovan was New York City’s housing commissioner. “The thing about Darren is, he is a thinker but he is a doer in a way that there aren’t enough of in the foundation world,” Mr. Donovan said. “He gets things done.”

According to his biography on the Ford Foundation website, Walker is a 1982 graduate of The University of Texas at Austin and its School of Law in 1986. He is a member of the boards of the Arcus Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Friends of the High Line, the New York City Ballet, and the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Passionate about his adopted city of New York, he lives in Manhattan with his partner, David Beitzel, a contemporary art dealer in Chelsea, and their English bulldog, Mary Lou.

Read more:  The New York Times

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